Virginia Arts Festival 2019 Features Powerhouse Performances

Virginia Arts Festival 2019 will Showcase Strong Female Artists, Shakespeare Standouts and Much More

by | Mar 15, 2019

Olga Kern
Olga Kern

“I am just encouraging them not to be afraid of anything and just to enjoy performing and enjoy music,” says celebrated Russian-American pianist, educator and Van Cliburn Gold Medalist Olga Kern of her young female piano students. “They are so great and so strong. I think for women it’s a great time right now.”

That’s certainly true of the Virginia Arts Festival’s upcoming 2019 season, in which Kern will play a starring role not only as a featured performer in a solo piano recital on April 16 at the TCC Roper Performing Arts Center, but as the Festival’s newly appointed director of chamber music.

Kern speaks passionately about her students as well as curating the Festival’s signature “Coffee Concerts” and chamber music, particularly the opportunity to invite fellow musicians. Those include guests such at the Dalí Quartet, the Jupiter String Quartet and “two great female artists,” cellist Nina Kotova and violinist Tasmin Little, with whom Kern will perform on April 18 and 19.

“It’s just really powerful to see all three beautiful women with great talent all together in one space. It’s really powerful and really beautiful. So, I can’t wait to present this program for the first year here.”

Talented women will be front and center in this year’s Festival. That’s partly by happy coincidence, says Festival Director Rob Cross, and partly by design through the Festival’s partnership with Virginia’s 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution, which commemorates key historic events that occurred in Virginia in 1619 and focuses on themes of democracy, diversity and opportunity.

Dance Theatre of Harlem, Virginia Arts Festival
Dance Theatre of Harlem

One of the results of that partnership is a brand new ballet with an original score commissioned from Dance Theatre of Harlem, which will premiere as part of a mixed repertory program May 3–5 at Chrysler Hall. The new work features an all-female creative team including choreographer Claudia Schreier and composer Jessie Montgomery and comes under the leadership of the company’s artistic director, Virginia Johnson.

2019 Virginia International Tattoo, Virginia Arts Festival
Virginia International Tattoo

Also a signature event of the 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution partnership is the 2019 Virginia International Tattoo at the Scope Arena April 25–28. A popular Festival staple, the Tattoo is billed as a “celebration of inspirational military music, majestic pipes and drums, showstopping drill team maneuvers, colorful dancers and much more.”

This year’s Tattoo will be full of the grand pageantry Tattoo fans have come to expect but will feature a special focus on female service members with a cast of hundreds of performers from around the world telling their stories through the event’s theme “Courage & Commitment: A Salute to Women in the Military.”

The Festival's official opening weekend is nothing short of a “powerhouse of women,” says Rob Cross. It kicks off with Broadway goddess Kristin Chenoweth on Friday, April 12 at Chrysler Hall with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra and conductor and Norfolk native Rob Fisher. Among Chenoweth’s many memorable roles is her definitive turn as Glinda the Good Witch in Wicked.

Storm Large
Storm Large

Next up is singer, actor, playwright and author Storm Large, who first gained fame as a finalist on the CBS show “Rock Star: Supernova” and who Cross describes as “a remarkable singer who really can do anything from in-your-face rock-n-roll to American songbook to pop.” She’ll be at Norfolk’s Granby Theater on April 13.

Also opening weekend is Jessica Lang Dance, making its Festival debut April 14 at Chrysler Hall. This critically acclaimed company is known for its namesake’s innovative take on classical movement and striking design sense. Catch it while you can; the Norfolk performance will be the company’s last before Lang, an in-demand choreographer for some of the world’s best ballet companies, disbands it to focus on her choreographic career.

Leslie Jones, Virginia Arts Festival
Leslie Jones

“Saturday Night Live” star Leslie Jones will bring the laughs to the Attucks Theatre stage April 20 as part of the “Attucks at 100 Celebration.” Jones has been a cast member on “Saturday Night Live” for three seasons, was nominated for an Emmy and has made numerous television and film appearances, but she got her start in stand-up comedy. She returns to her roots for this one-night-only performance.

Of course, no discussion of powerful female artists at the Virginia Arts Festival would be complete without the incomparable JoAnn Falletta, who announced in 2018 that the 2019–2020 season would be her last as artistic director of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, which will soon celebrate its 100th anniversary. After more than 27 years at the organization's helm, Falletta has said she plans to stay focused on the joy of the music during this last year.

Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra

Falletta will take the stage for a passion project at the Arts Festival, conducting the East Coast premiere of Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra with the Virginia Symphony Orchestra on May 17 at the Ferguson Center and May 18 at Chrysler Hall. Featuring a full cast of actors on stage with the orchestra, Falletta will bring to life the sumptuous score by French composer Florent Schmitt. The production has only been performed twice before, offering a rare opportunity for classical music and Shakespeare fans.

Beyond all these fabulous females, the Virginia Arts Festival’s 23rd season promises all kinds of amazing artistry and memorable moments. A Shakespearean thread runs throughout the theater offerings to include the Reduced Shakespeare Company May 7–12 at Zeiders American Dream Theater in Virginia Beach and The HandleBards, a British troupe that travels the countryside on bikes performing hilarious versions of Shakespeare classics. Check the Festival website for May dates and locations.

The dance programming is strong as usual with the influential Richard Alston Dance Company presenting a program of works never performed in the U.S. including another world premiere commissioned by the Virginia Arts Festival and 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution, March 21 at Chrysler Hall. And don’t miss the always mesmerizing and gravity-defying Pilobolus at the Sandler Center on May 10.

There’s music and more music for practically every taste. Take in the joyful sounds of eight-man a capella vocal ensemble Cantus at Norfolk Academy on April 30 or the mesmerizing harmonies of I’m With Her, featuring multi-Grammy winners Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan, on May 23 at the Sandler Center.

Grammy-winning duo Béla Fleck and Chick Corea mix jazz and pop standards on banjo and piano May 11 at the Sandler Center. Theo Croker, grandson of trumpet legend Doc Cheatham, makes his Festival debut on May 9 in the Zeiders American Dream Studio Theater. Legendary jazz pianist Ellis Marsalis will be with the Jae Sinnett Trio at the Attucks Theatre on May 21. The Music Maker Blues Revue returns to the Festival, featuring artists who have shared the stage with blues greats, at Roger Brown’s in Portsmouth, on May 2.

Transfigured Nights, the brainchild of cellist Alisa Weilerstein, showcases a group of world-class musicians performing rarely heard transcriptions of works by Beethoven, Shostakovich and Schoenberg on May 8 at the TCC Roper Performing Arts Center. Guitarists Nate Najar and Jason Vieaux will be at the Attucks Theatre on March 16 and the Robin Hixon Theater, Clay & Jay Barr Education Center, on April 15 respectively.

The Festival will close out with a bang when Michael Feinstein, known as “the ambassador of the Great American Songbook,” takes the Sandler Center stage on May 19. Feinstein brings classic songs to life not only through music but as a storyteller shedding light on how music has shaped our unique American identity.

Finally, the Festival always features some fun and unique interactive and outdoor events. At the Illusionist’s Table returns May 6–17 with illusionist Scott Silven hosting a series of intimate dinners at Byrd and Baldwin restaurant in Norfolk. The 17th annual PANFest once again brings Caribbean music and steelpan virtuosos to the Oceanfront May 11–12.

Visit the Virginia Arts Festival website at for tickets and a complete schedule of events. Or call 757-282-2800 for more information.


Mark your calendars for these spectacular performances coming to Coastal Virginia this spring.

Disney’s Frozen Jr. Presented By Hurrah Players
March 15–16: Based on the Broadway musical, Frozen Jr. brings Elsa, Anna and the magical land of Arendelle to life on stage. Sandler Center for Performing Arts.


Madama Butterfly
March 15, 17, 19: Puccini’s timeless masterpiece becomes a Virginia Opera stage performance as a heartbreaking drama with a mesmerizing score. Harrison Opera House.


Dailey & Vincent
March 16: Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent will put on this entertaining performance showcasing their unique sound that blends bluegrass, traditional country and gospel music. The American Theatre.


Nate Najar, guitar
March 16: Nate Najar plays fingerstyle on an acoustic classical guitar, bringing an elegance to his playing that reflects a world of artistic musical influences. Attucks Theatre.


Richard Alston Dance Company
March 21: Richard Alston Dance Company’s new dance Arrived has been commissioned through the Virginia Art Festival’s partnership with the 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution, and is a collaboration with students of Norfolk’s Governor’s School for the Arts. Chrysler Hall.


Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye
Through March 24: The Bluest Eye tells a story that looks at how the world might break us or give us the light to grow. Wells Theatre.


Broadway in Norfolk Presents Finding Neverland
March 29–31: Finding Neverland tells the incredible story behind one of the world’s most beloved characters, Peter Pan, in this heartwarming musical. Chrysler Hall.


March 30: Expect an evening of musical empowerment delivered by Billboard-topping Avery*Sunshine. The American Theatre.


Ryan Keberle, trombone
April 6: Get ready for an evening of mind-blowing invention with this multitalented artist and renowned trombonist. Attucks Theatre.


The Swingles
April 6: Experience creative a cappella arrangements of well-loved songs and new originals from award-winning group The Swingles. The American Theatre.


Native Gardens
April 10–28: This hilarious and topical comedy examines the challenges its characters face and their views on race, affluence and influence while shining a light on what it means to be a good neighbor. Wells Theatre.


Kristin Chenoweth, vocalist
April 12: This powerhouse performer will share the stage with Broadway’s acclaimed music director Rob Fisher and the Virginia Symphony Orchestra. Chrysler Hall.


Richmond Ballet: American Masters
April 12: Richmond Ballet presents American Masters, an evening of elegance, drama and fascinating rhythms from three of the most celebrated choreographers in American dance history. Ferguson Center for the Arts.


An Acoustic Evening with Shawn Colvin
April 13: This intimate concert offers fans old and new the opportunity to experience Shawn Colvin’s warmhearted and tender songbook. The American Theatre.


Storm Large, vocalist
April 13: Storm takes the stage and will thrill fans and new admirers alike with her wit, wardrobe and way with a song. Granby Theater.


Jessica Lang Dance
April 14: Jessica Lang incorporates striking design elements and transforms classical ballet language into artfully crafted and emotionally engaging works. Chrysler Hall.


Bach Celebration
April 14: Celebrate the history and future of Christ and St. Luke’s Episcopal Church as members of Virginia Symphony Orchestra and guest soloists perform the music of Bach. Christ and St. Luke’s Church.


Jason Vieaux, guitar
April 15: Enjoy an intimate evening of stellar music making with acclaimed classical guitarist Jason Vieaux. Robin Hixon Theater.


Olga Kern, piano
April 16: Launching her first season as the Virginia Arts Festival’s Connie & Marc Jacobson Director of Chamber Music, Olga Kern will perform a piano recital that is sure to be remembered as a highlight of the theater season. TCC Roper Performing Arts Center.


Coffee Concert
April 18–19, 30, May 15–16: Virginia Arts Festival Coffee Concerts offer chamber music as it was meant to be heard: the communion of gifted artists in an intimate, beautiful setting among music lovers and friends.


Leslie Jones, comedian
April 20: Hilarious comedian and “Saturday Night Live” star Leslie Jones performs live on stage as a part of the Attucks at 100 celebration. Attucks Theatre.


2019 Virginia International Tattoo
April 25–28: This incredible spectacle includes a display of inspirational military music, majestic massed pipes and drums, showstopping drill team maneuvers, elegant dancers and much more. Scope Arena.


Virginia Musical Theatre Presents Sister Act
April 26–28: Based on the hilarious 1992 film and featuring an original score from composer Alan Menken, Sister Act is a divine tribute to the universal power of friendship, sisterhood and music. Sandler Center for the Performing Arts.


Jupiter String Quartet
April 29: Now enjoying their 16th year together, this tight-knit ensemble is established as an important voice in the world of chamber music. Robin Hixon Theater.


April 30: This men’s a cappella ensemble is known for its trademark vocal warmth, innovative programming and engaging performances of music ranging from the Renaissance to the 21st century. Norfolk Academy.


Music Maker Blues
May 2: Music Maker Blues Revue brings storied blues players back to the stage, giving eager audiences a rare opportunity to hear some of the pioneers of the art form. Roger Brown’s Restaurant.


Dance Theatre of Harlem
May 3–5: This internationally acclaimed, history-making company returns to the Virginia Arts Festival with a dazzling program that includes a world premier commissioned by the Festival and the 2019 Commemoration, American Evolution. Chrysler Hall.


Reduced Shakespeare Company
May 7–12: In this 2019 engagement, the madmen in tights bring back their original hit in an irreverent, fast-paced romp through all 37 of Shakespeare’s plays in 97 maniacal minutes. Zeiders American Dream Theater.


Transfigured Nights
May 8: Four transcendent musicians perform music by Beethoven, Shostakovich and Schoenberg in an entirely new way as they explore rarely heard transcriptions during this program. TCC Roper Performing Arts Center.


Theo Croker Quintet
May 9: The young trumpeter and groundbreaking artist makes his Virginia Arts Festival debut during this performance. Zeiders American Dream Theater.


May 10: In an acrobatic Pilobolus show, bodies merge and part, roll and climb and form impossible shapes that spark wonder. Sandler Center for the Performing Arts.


Béla Fleck & Chick Corea
May 11: These two master songwriters, musicians and band leaders meet in a historic duet of piano and banjo. Sandler Center for the Performing Arts.


Ken Cowan, organ
May 12: Expect a thrilling program from this extraordinary artist as he performs on the newly refurbished organ at Norfolk’s historic Christ and St. Luke’s Church. Christ and St. Luke’s Church.


Dalí Quartet with Olga Kern
May 13: The lively quartet with world-class artists with a repertoire of Latin American, classical and romantic songs will play alongside pianist Olga Kern. Robin Hixon Theater.


Shakespeare’s Antony & Cleopatra
May 17–18: Rediscover a Shakespeare classic enhanced by a long-lost musical score performed by Virginia Symphony Orchestra. Ferguson Center and Chrysler Hall.


Cocktail Hour: The Show
May 18–19: This electrifying ballet production from New York City is a sparkling mix of original choreography, music and design that brings high-style fun for all ages to enjoy. Zeiders American Dream Theater.


Michael Feinstein, Great American Songbook
May 19: An acclaimed artist, musical educator and archivist, Michael Feinstein brings the music of the Great American Songbook to the world and shares the stories behind these songs during this show. Sandler Center for the Performing Arts.


Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical
May 22–June 2: This musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s classic book highlights a collaborative performance between local students from The Governor’s School for the Arts and professional actors from Virginia Stage Company. Wells Theatre.


I’m With Her
May 23: A band of extraordinary chemistry and exquisite musicianship, I’m With Her features three amazing musicians who inspire each other to new heights live in concert. Sandler Center for the Performing Arts.


Disney’s The Lion King
May 29–June 9: This landmark musical event brings the beloved Disney film to stage with stunning visuals and some of Broadway’s most recognizable music. Chrysler Hall.


Beginning June 21: In this musical, the ancient game of chess becomes a metaphor for romantic rivalries, competitive gamesmanship, super-power politics and international intrigues. Chrysler Hall.

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